Shipping Wars — a TV course for new entrepreneurs

One of the biggest problems for people entering the translation profession is a lack of hands-on, street level business experience. Many don’t understand the value of their time, and they may have no clue how to price their work — in fact, many beginners feel embarrassed and greedy when they ask to be paid respectably for what they do. Negotiating is also uncharted territory for many, and some don’t understand the difference between pricing their own services versus a corporation pricing a manufactured good.

There are books and seminars that help novices understand and implement good principles for running their businesses, but sometimes you can learn from unexpected sources. And as the famous baseball coach Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

One interesting source for watching the way experienced independent entrepreneurs operate is the “reality” TV show Shipping Wars. The program follows several seasoned independent truckers as they bid on contracts and haul unusual loads cross country. Novice and even experienced translators could learn a lot from the way these truckers operate.

Bidding. The first thing that’s worth watching closely is the way these truckers bid on contracts. The jobs come to them the same way they do for most of us translators, over the Internet, and they have to outbid each other. I would not recommend dealing with agencies or individual clients who send out a cattle call for translators and pit them against each other in bidding wars. (Watch out for that evil expression “your best rate”!) However, you may sometimes have to horse trade with good clients, so there are things to be learned from the way the truckers on Shipping Wars bid.

Truckers constantly keep their costs in mind when they bid. Their bids are always anchored to their time and expenses. They don’t get caught up in a race to the bottom in which the proposed prices are no longer tied to anything real. If they find that others are bidding below cost or are offering prices that don’t take their time into account, they never hesitate to pull out of the bidding and look elsewhere.

As a translator, whether you’re bidding or accepting a fixed rate, you need to keep your business and living expenses in mind. If you’re competing with people who are bidding below subsistence wages, walk away and let them have the job. Once you show a willingness to work for next to nothing, the same clients will keep coming back expecting you to work at sweatshop rates.

Among the costs you need to consider when pricing and bidding is opportunity cost. This is business lingo for how much money you could have made on another job if you hadn’t tied yourself up in a badly paid one. When these truckers quit bidding and slap their laptops shut, they don’t know what the next opportunity will be, but they know it’s coming from somewhere and that they shouldn’t commit themselves to a poorly paid job just because they’re afraid the good one won’t come.

People say, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” but this does not always apply to a translation business. If your hand is holding one bird, it’s awfully hard to catch two more, so you sometimes have to let one translation job go to someone else so that you can catch a better one.

The higher bidder really can win. When one of the older truckers won a job over a lower-bidding competitor, he shut his laptop, declared, “You can’t outbid experience!” and took off to pick up the load. He had stated during the bidding war that he would not go below the price he wanted no matter what. He won the job by convincing the customer of his experience and expertise.

When you have a bidding war going on, instead of letting yourself be dragged down into the crab bucket, it’s better to stick to a reasonable price that meets your costs. Instead of bidding lower and lower, convince the client of whatever makes you more fit for the job. Are you certified or very highly experienced in the CAT tool the client wants used? (Or for new, more naïve clients, can you convince them of the advantages of your using any CAT tool?) Have you actually worked on the types of machines the job is about? If the job is about art, for example, have you been to professional art school?

Believe it or not, truckers have specialties just like translators do. When one of them, nicknamed “The Cowgirl”, bids on certain contracts, she makes sure clients know she’s one of the highest-rated livestock transporters. Translators, too, should always highlight their actual experience. Have you been to a chicken farm and seen an automatic chicken feeding system? There are translation clients that need your knowledge, believe it or not. A friend of mine listed his scuba experience and by surprise became the go-to translator for a scuba equipment company.

Negotiation. Once the bidding is done and the contract has been awarded, that doesn’t mean all negotiations are over. Sometimes the client “forgot something”, or “something went wrong,” and “can you just help me a little?” There are cases where a good, regular client needs a little favor once in a while, but if someone asks for a favor that demands major time, you’d better ask for more compensation. As a client roared at me when I was a beginning translator in a small Czech town, “I TOOK YOUR TIME AND YOU DESERVE TO BE ADEQUATELY COMPENSATED!” Another one said, “You can give the charity rates to charity cases!” They were teaching me a professional, self-respecting approach to charging for my work.

One trucker on Shipping Wars had to pick up a truckload from a winery. Yet, when he got there, it wasn’t ready for shipment, and the owner was there by himself. Expecting an obedient response, the owner asked the trucker to help him pack the rest of the wine. He’s a blue-collar guy after all, right? An hour or so of packing wine was not part of the contract, so the trucker demanded compensation. He and the owner horse traded, and instead of more money, he got a couple cases of great wine, but he was satisfied.

This kind of thing can happen to translators also, and we can learn from those truckers. A client sends you a project and then asks you to do something extra for free. Maybe it’s to wrestle for a couple hours in Word with a converted PDF to make it look like the original. Or it could be one of those cases where the client sends you a “finalized” text, then, when you’re almost done translating, they send you a different “finalized” text with major rewriting, and maybe they’ll even come back a third time with still another “finalized” text to replace the one you’d already translated. That kind of client is also liable to say they’ve shelved the project and don’t want to pay you. You wouldn’t believe how many beginning translators let themselves be cheated in such situations. Like these truckers, you need to demand what your full time and effort are worth.

A pig in a poke. Sometimes the truckers accept a job and find it to be grossly misrepresented. This can happen to translators too. In one episode of Shipping Wars, a trucker bid on a job to haul a number of large duct tape sculptures made by art students from the university where they were built to the tape manufacturer who would judge them in a contest. Based on the way the job was represented, it seemed doable and well compensated. However, when the trucker arrived, the sculptures were much larger than they were claimed to be, and the art students’ professor told him he had to make two runs for the agreed price instead of just one, as the contract stated. This would double the labor, time, and fuel, and bring the trucker’s profit dangerously near zero. When the trucker said double the run would require double the compensation, the professor yelled at him: “You agreed to the contract, and we’re bound to the university budget!”

There are a few issues in that situation that are relevant to translators:

1. Clients should find out what things cost before they establish a budget! If a client or agency asks you to cut your price in half because, “That’s all we have in the budget,” that’s not your problem. The client put the cart before the horse, and you’re probably better off refusing and waiting for a better managed job.

2. When a client yells at you for demanding adequate payment, he surely knows he’s cheating you. This is an intimidation tactic. Don’t fall for it. (And as you save for your future, be aware that yelling and intimidation are also common tactics among investment scam artists. If you ask for clear information about an investment somebody is pushing, and he yells at you, hang up.)

Keeping the customer on the hook. One of the truckers on the show was just minutes away from delivering her freight – a bucking alligator ride – when her customer phoned her and said his customer couldn’t use the ride because it was raining that day. “If they don’t pay me, then I can’t pay you.” This is never acceptable customer behavior. If a customer agrees to pay you for work, and you adequately perform the work, then you have to demand compensation. It’s the customer’s problem to collect from his own client. Never work for a client who makes your fee contingent on his customer paying him.

Walking away. The truckers on Shipping Wars also know when to walk away from an offer. As one husband-wife team were bidding on a job, competitors’ bids kept sinking, and more details came up about the awkwardness and fragility of the cargo, the wife finally said, “Just because we can transport anything doesn’t mean we should,” and they dropped out of the bidding.

Just because you think you can translate something, and the price is right, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Does the potential client seem iffy? Is there something wrong with the document you’re given? Once I got a document that was photographed with a cellphone, and the clearest thing on photos was the breadcrumbs from the phone wielder’s continental breakfast. As I got into the document, I found that a lot of words were cut off at the edges of some of the photos, important words like “not”, for example. There is no use in saying yes and trying to make something like that work, because the results are sure to be imperfect, and that could come back to bite you. Even if the client seems understanding at the beginning, he may blame you later, so it’s best to let iffy jobs like that go. As former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina often said, it’s important to know when to walk away from the table.

Do what you have to and spend the money to do it. On Shipping Wars, the truckers often run into unexpected complications, so they do what they have to and spend the money necessary to tackle the situation. One trucker arrived for the cargo and was suddenly told it had to be transported under climate-controlled conditions. He gave up the idea of transporting it on his flatbed, and he spent the money to rent a refrigerated trailer. The job still paid off, and he had a satisfied customer. Another trucker was hired to carry a vintage TV camera boom – a big, hulking structure – across several states. At some point he could feel it wobbling in the wind, so he stopped by a lumber yard and built stabilizers for it. That also cost him money and effort, but he got the load to its destination and got paid.

If you’re a Trados user and a client offers you a $600 job that has to be done in MemoQ or Wordfast Pro, for example, is it worth buying and learning the second CAT tool for that? Probably not, because the price of the tool would eat up most of the revenue. But what if the job were for $10,000? Would it be worth buying the second CAT tool then? Hell, yeah! Not only will it get you the job, but it will probably create a lot of customer goodwill, and you’ll be able to take later jobs from that and other clients who require that tool. It’s shortsighted to be too cheap.

A long time ago, a prominent ATA member, who is a Windows user, got offered a huge job that had to be done on a Macintosh for some reason. Did he respond, “No, thanks, I use Windows”? Of course not. He calculated the financial benefit and bought the Mac. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.

Shipping Wars is just one good resource to give you a feel for running an independent business. Other resources are all around you. Ask people questions. Get them talking. There might be a gas station owner nearby who’s been in business for 60 years, through all the changes in the economy and technology. Get an oil change and ask him about his business. Talk to the granny who does catering from her house. How about the guy who snakes your basement sewer? Then there are the freelance writers and engineers. Almost any independent businessperson knows things that a new translator can learn from!

Author bio

James Kirchner is a translator working from German, Czech, French and Slovak into English. Because he works in two “small languages,” he has had to develop a larger-than-normal number of specializations, but mainly does technical, marketing and fine arts translations. James is a past president of the Michigan Translators/Interpreters Network (MiTiN), which is the Michigan chapter of the ATA. He has a BFA in Fine Arts from the College for Creative Studies and an MA in Linguistics from Wayne State University, as well as a Czech Proficiency Certificate from the Státní Jazyková škola in Prague. He has a black belt in Aikido and Karate and is an avid intermediate student of Taekwondo and Iaido.

53 Freelancing Mistakes That Are Costing You Clients, Cash, and Credibility

This post originally appeared on Copyblogger

I don’t know about you, but when I started freelancing as a writer, I made a ton of mistakes.

And by “a ton,” I mean everything I did was pretty much a disaster.

Thankfully, you can fix mistakes. And contrary to popular belief, making mistakes is a good thing — provided you learn from them.

But if you’re thinking, “Great! As long as I learn from my mistakes, it’s all good,” I have to tell you something … and you won’t like it.

You may not even know you’re making a mistake.

And that part can hurt your freelance business.

You were too busy to notice (now you’re not)

There you are, happily working your behind off, when suddenly you lose a client.

They don’t give a reason so you shrug it off.

Then you lose another client just as abruptly, and then another client tells you they won’t be renewing your contract.

Um, what’s going on?

You quickly realize you haven’t received a referral from a client in a while. No one has heaped praises on you either. Hell, you’ve even been having trouble convincing prospective clients to hire you!

You were just too busy to notice. And now you’re not.

Even a rookie mistake can lose you clients, ruin your reputation, and cost you your livelihood if you don’t fix it in time.

It can destroy everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Want to avoid the destruction of your business? Use the freelancing mistakes listed below to discover if you’re making any of them.

(The mistakes have been organized under different aspects of a freelance business — mainly rates, clients, deadlines, business, communication, work, management, and marketing. Feel free to jump to the ones that interest you most.)

Rates

1. You’re not charging enough

Freelance rates are subjective. What’s a low rate for me could be high for you.

But here’s the thing: if you’re not attracting the types of clients you want to work with, you’re probably not charging enough.

One quick way to find out whether you’re undercharging or not is to look at your calendar. Do you have room for new clients? Do you have room for your own life? Do all of the clients you have today treat you well? Can you meet all of your current deadlines comfortably? And are you paying your bills?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is No, you might not be not charging enough. If the answer to all of them is No, you’re definitely not charging enough.

2. You let your clients dictate your rates

Your clients don’t know how much work goes into doing what you do. And they don’t know how long it took you to become a capable writer who can create that work.

Frankly, they don’t care. All they care about is getting the job done as economically as possible.

It’s your job to charge a fair price that reflects the work you put into it.

If you don’t set your rates, clients will do it for you by telling you how much they can pay. And that’s never a number to get excited about.

Don’t ask for the client’s budget. Instead, quote an amount to your client. You can only do that when you’ve figured out your rates.

3. You haven’t figured out your lowest acceptable rate — or you don’t even know what that is

You know what’s worse than undercharging or letting clients set your rates? Not having your lowest acceptable rate figured out. This is the amount below which you absolutely will not work. Ever.

Having this figured out will help you make the right decisions when work is slow and you’re tempted to take on anything that comes along.

4. You think charging by the hour is smart

According to the logic behind charging per hour, you get billed for the time you spend working on a project. And that’s fine as long as the project is taking a set number of hours.

But what happens when you get so good at your work that you complete it in half the time?

Congratulations, you just slashed your earning in half. This isn’t up for debate. Charge per project. End of story.

5. You can’t remember the last time you raised your rates

When was the last time you raised your rates? Six months ago? Last year? Maybe two years ago?

If no one has questioned your rates in a while, it’s time to raise them.

Clients

6. You have trouble saying “No”

Many freelancers choke when trying to say no. We simply can’t do it. Not without feeling like the world’s biggest heel.

Our inability to say no translates into accepting every request a client has — and that’s just bad business.

The next time your gut tells you to say no — just say it.

Yes, you’re saying no to money you need, but your time would be better spent finding interesting work that pays better rather than slogging for hours over a project you don’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole.

7. You forget to screen clients

Every freelancer should have a screening process for clients — a few warning signs they look for when discussing a project with a prospective client.

Failing to screen clients before working with them leads to a lot of problems, and not being paid is the least of them.

Figure out your deal breakers and use them to screen clients. It’s the first step in working with the kind of clients you desire.

8. You don’t know how to handle (legitimately) unhappy clients

When I say unhappy, I don’t mean unrealistic clients. I mean the client who comes back to you and politely says you didn’t deliver what he was expecting.

Yes, you need to deal with your unrealistic clients too, because they’ll be the loudest voices when dissing your work and work ethic.

But you also need to learn how to handle criticism. Do everything in your power to satisfy an unhappy client. It might mean losing a pay check or working extra hours, but if the end result is a happy client and an intact reputation, the investment is worthwhile.

9. You think “the client is always right” is a good policy

Did you know that doing everything your client wants — especially things you know are wrong — hurts you more than it hurts them?

Sure, on the surface it looks like it’s none of your concern. After all, the client wants what he wants. Your job is to deliver.

But don’t forget that you’re their freelancer. When things go wrong (and they will), the blame will land squarely on your shoulders.

Take the time to explain why you think something won’t work. Offer an alternative solution instead. And when that solution works, accept the eternal gratitude of your client.

And maybe even raise your rates. Just saying …

10. You haven’t stayed in touch with your former clients

When was the last time you sent a former client an email? Just a short email to catch up and say hi — and casually mention you’re taking on more work these days.

You never know when a client might send work your way simply because you popped up on their radar at the right time.

11. You’re a little too available for your clients

This is one mistake you won’t realize you’re making until you answer a client call during dinner or find yourself on a conference call on Sunday morning.

Set some ground rules from the start. Make exceptions for emergencies of course, but you need to respect your own boundaries before you can expect your clients to do the same.

12. You remember the client … but not the person you worked with

Even if you’ve concluded your business with a client, don’t forget about the person who was your point of contact. Employees leave companies and move on to bigger and better things all the time.

Save their contact information and stay in touch. You never know when you might move to a new client with them.

13. You don’t educate your clients

Remember, clients don’t really understand what goes into a strong piece of writing.

All the client sees is a 1500-word blog post … not the strategy, research, drafting, editing, and fact-checking that go into it.

If you want the client to appreciate your work and give it due importance, educate them about it. The more they understand, especially about content strategy, the better clients they’ll be.

Deadlines

14. You’re not religious about deadlines

A deadline is not a tentative date. When you commit to a deadline, you must deliver on it.

Leave room for life to happen when setting a deadline. You never know when you’ll catch a cold, have your computer crash on you, or get your pitch for a guest post on Copyblogger accepted.

This way, even if you’re running behind, you’ll have enough time to meet your deadline or at the very least, let your client know about the delay.

Bottom line: If you’re committing to a deadline, stick to it no matter what. Your clients will stick to you in return.

15. You don’t have a deadline calendar

Freelance work is based on deadlines. The more work or clients you have, the more deadlines you’ll have. If you’re not giving enough time between each deadline to get work done, you’ll eventually miss one.

Have a deadline schedule. Don’t just think you’ll be done in a week and pledge a date. For all you know, you could have two more deadlines the same week.

Set up a deadline calendar to determine which dates work best for you.

Business

16. You’ve never invested in your business

That sounds like such a successful freelancer problem right? Who has money to invest back in the business when you’re barely making ends meet?

But if you don’t invest in your business, you won’t have a business to invest in a couple of years down the road.

You don’t necessarily need to put thousands of dollars into getting the training you need. Start with a library of good copywriting books (both traditional and ebooks). And don’t forget to take advantage of high-quality free resources like the MyCopyblogger ebook library.

17. You’re a wimp about contracts

I get it. Contracts are scary. But they’re not as scary as not receiving a payment you were counting on to pay the bills.

You may think contracts need to be drawn up in technical legal language (or legalese as I like to call it) to be valid, but that’s not necessarily the case.

An email summarizing the terms and conditions you’ve worked out with a client is a form of a contract. It won’t be as airtight as something your attorney drafts for you, but it often doesn’t need to be. If you want to make it formal, put your agreement into a document, sign it, send it to your client, and ask her to sign it.

Still confused?

The following is an example you can use:

“This is a contract for [whatever service you’re providing] between John Smith (the awesome client) and Jane Doe (the equally awesome freelancer).

Below are the terms of this contract:”

Easy peasy.

18. You don’t have a payment schedule

This is such a rookie mistake — one I recently made because, hey, the amount was small and the client seemed legit. I’ve now put in the hours and sent in the work, but the payment is still stuck because the work wasn’t what the client was expecting, and instead of sending me the details of what was wrong, he’s now AWOL.

Sound familiar?

Everyone needs a payment schedule. Make yours, “Half now, half on delivery (no matter what),” and you’ll never go wrong.

19. You don’t have working terms and conditions

Just as clients have terms and conditions, so do freelancers. Maybe you only accept payment through bank transfers, or don’t accept rush work. Whatever conditions you have, spell them out for your client so she knows what to expect when hiring you.

If you don’t, you’ll either run into problems with your client or find yourself making undesirable compromises.

Run a search for “freelance contract clauses” and you’ll find the most important clauses you need to work out.

20. You don’t learn from your mistakes

We all make mistakes. It’s what we do with them that sets us apart.

When something backfires, do everything you can to fix it and figure out what you can do to make it work next time.

21. You spend everything you earn

Ever notice how your expenses have a big number attached to them and your savings the most minuscule?

Sucks, huh?

But you know what sucks even more? Not having any savings on a rainy day.

Sooner or later we all have them. It could be because work’s slowed down, or maybe you had a big expense come up. Either way, if you don’t have a little something saved up for emergencies, you are screwed.

How to do it? Spend a little less, and/or raise your rates (see point 1 above).

22. You think your freelancing is a hobby

Freelancing isn’t something you do because you’re bored at home or because you have nothing better to do.

Freelancing is a business. The fact that you work your tail off day after day, night after night is proof of it.

You don’t burn the midnight oil for a hobby. Or if you do, you sleep till 3:00 p.m. the next day … not wake up early and get back to work again.

Do yourself a favor and stop treating your freelancing like a hobby. Freelancing is a business. Think it. Say it. Tell it to anyone who asks — maybe even those who don’t.

Keep at it until you start treating it like one.

23. You don’t show clients the value of your work

We often expect our clients to know the value of our work.

We tell them how much something will cost and how long it’ll take. Then we get the, “That sounds like a lot of money for such a small job” email. And you’re left scratching your head wondering how sending a sales newsletter to a 10k+ subscriber list is a small job.

The value isn’t in the number of words written. The value is in the opening rate of the email, in the click rate of the sales link, and in the actual sales made. Don’t take the value you provide for granted. If you do, your clients will too.

Always focus on the benefit your client will get from the writing, not the number of words you put on the screen.

24. You don’t pay attention to the business side of freelancing

Freelancing isn’t just about the work you do. It’s also about marketing, invoicing, prospecting, accounting, and so much more.

As much as it pains me to say it, all these things are as important as your work. Ignore it and you could find yourself missing meetings, deadlines, and even invoices.

25. You don’t have big plans for your business

As clichéd as these questions might sound …

  • Where do you see yourself six months from now?
  • What needs to change in your current situation for you to feel like your business is moving forward?

If you don’t have a ready answer, you’re not planning ahead.

Settling for the status quo is not planning.

Chalk out clear goals for yourself and make them as specific as you can. Make them time-sensitive and quantitative.

Something like: I should have a guest post published on Copyblogger in 2014 (ahem). Or, I need to find two new clients by the end of the quarter.

26. You don’t measure success financially

Making a “success” of your freelance business is a good goal to have. It’s also the world’s vaguest goal ever.

What is success to you? What must you achieve to declare your business a “success?” How much do you need to earn in order to do so?

The easiest way to measure success is financially. And so many freelancers fail at this.

Finding clients is not a good financial goal. Finding clients who pay you more than what you’re being paid now is.

What financial goals do you have for your business?

Communication

27. You think typos in your emails are okay

Nothing spells unprofessional and even irresponsible better than a poorly written email.

We all make mistakes, but if your communication is riddled with more than the very occasional typo, you’re sending the wrong message.

Take an extra 30 seconds and read your emails before hitting send … and save yourself some time and embarrassment.

Trust me: catching a missing “o” in word count is worth the hassle. 😉

28. You think following up is pushy

Freelancers are notoriously bad at following up. It feels like such a pushy thing to do.

Find a happy medium.

Come up with a not-so-pushy follow-up email. A simple “Hey, I know you’re busy. Just wanted to follow up …” or “Hey I was wondering if you’ve come to a decision?” works pretty well.

29. You’re an over-sharer

If you’re mentioning your kids, unhealthy working habits, your penchant for trashy lit, etc. … you’re an over-sharer.

Keep it simple, direct, and friendly when communicating with clients. And yes, you can be all that without sharing your life’s story.

Take your clues from the client and always err on the side of discretion.

30. You think “negotiation” is a bad word

For some reason, negotiations have a negative connotation attached to them. In reality, they’re anything but.

Negotiations don’t always mean you lower your rates or give in to the clients’ demands. Whether it’s a question of deadlines, money, or the value provided, it’s all open for negotiation.

Use smart negotiation tactics to get what you want.

If the client says your rates are too high, tell them what work you can do within their budget. Offer to tailor a service package that gives value to them without compromising on your rates.

31. You let the client talk you into things you don’t want to do

If you’re letting the client talk you into doing something you don’t agree with, it’s time to get assertive.

Tell your client why you think their idea won’t work and what should be done instead. Let them know you’re uncomfortable doing something because it wastes time and money — not to mention it puts both of your reputations at stake.

32. You don’t tell clients you’ll pick their brains

Clients aren’t mind readers. To them, having some work done is simple. They pay you upfront and expect the finished product to be on their virtual desk on the deadline.

Some of them get antsy when you bug them with things like questions, or requests for additional material.

To avoid having an annoyed client on your hands, take the time to explain your work process to them. Let them know beforehand you might have more questions.

33. You keep your cards close to your chest

A thin line exists between being professional and acting too cool. Nobody likes to work with the freelancer who doesn’t give a straight answer.

Don’t try to second guess your client’s responses. Lay your cards on the table, have your say, and then wait for your client to respond.

From the client’s point of view, an uncommunicative freelancer is a headache she doesn’t need.

34. You think replying to emails quickly makes you look desperate

If you’re not replying to emails from prospective clients as soon as possible, you’re losing business.

Forget being better, or more affordable, or appearing busier than the competition. Be faster than them instead.

Work

35. You take on too much work

In a perfect world, you’d take on every interesting project that comes your way. Too bad it doesn’t work that way in the real world.

Delegate or outsource your work, because if you don’t, the quality of your work will suffer — and your clients will be the first to notice.

And remember, it’s okay to tell clients that you’re just too busy to take their project right now. In fact, practically nothing will make you more desirable to them. And it’s a way to introduce the option of a retainer agreement, where you’ll carve out time for them on a regular basis. It’s good for clients and it’s good for your cash flow.

36. You over-promise

Over-promising happens when you have too much work.

Don’t promise results you can’t guarantee. Instead, always understate a little, because wowing a client is always better than giving your client an anti-climax.

37. You regularly fall victim to scope creep

This creepy bugger is the bane of countless freelancers.

They get introduced innocently enough: The clients ask if you could add something else into the project, and you — being the nice, accommodating freelancer that you are — agree. After all, it won’t take much time.

And so starts your slide down the slippery slope of an ever-expanding project scope.

The easiest way to ward off scope creep is to have a clause for it in your contract, reading: “should the scope of the project expand, so will the deadline and the rates.

This way, when the client comes to you with new suggestions, you get to say, “Sure, I’d be happy to do it. The new deadline will be ‘such and such’ and it’ll cost you an extra X bucks.”

38. You suffer from “freelancing god complex”

Freelancers usually work alone. We’re mostly loners who are also control freaks. We want to do everything ourselves. I call it our freelancing god complex.

Nobody can handle a growing business on their own — nobody human at least.

Do yourself a favor and outsource some tasks, whether they’re administrative tasks or your own work.

Make time for work you love doing by delegating work you don’t.

39. You don’t have any personal projects

Every time I hear someone say, “I started freelancing because I wanted to be my own boss,” I always say, “Great!” Then I ask, “What are you working on?”

The answer is almost always, “Oh y’know, client work.”

Somebody please enlighten me how this qualifies as working for yourself? You’ve traded one boss for a few others — also known as your clients.

Real freedom comes from working on your own projects — something that gives you a reason to get your client work done because you can’t wait to get back to it.

40. You’re a jack-of-all-trades but master of none

The specialist versus generalist debate has been going on for a long time among freelancers. You’ll find successful freelancers in both camps.

But if you haven’t mastered a skill — something you’re known as the expert on — making a name for yourself will be difficult.

For example, when someone wants a website designed, they no longer look for a WordPress designer. They look for a WordPress designer with experience in Genesis.

41. You’re too busy to learn new skills

Just because you’re great at what you do doesn’t mean you’ll stay that way unless you stay abreast of new developments in your niche.

So no matter how busy you are right now, take the time to learn new skills. Otherwise, you’ll soon be passed over for more inexperienced freelancers simply because they’re willing to learn.

Management

42. You think time management is for sissies

Freelancers and web workers are some of the biggest procrastinators online. And that’s great when you don’t have work. But when you have back-to-back deadlines, procrastination is death.

If you’re waiting for crunch time to get started with work, you’re in trouble.

Work out productivity strategies that accommodate your procrastinating, adrenaline-loving self.

Do your research and create outlines well before the day you actually sit down to work.

I won’t tell you to set a deadline two days before the actual one because it has never worked for me. I always remember I have two more days.

What has worked is setting a 30-minute timer on my phone. Or have an accountability partner — do anything that gets work done in time.

It’s your reputation, money, and credibility on the line after all.

43. You put all your eggs in one basket

Never depend on any one client for more than 25 percent of your income. (That’s my own number — some argue that it’s still too high).

Sounds simple and sensible right?

Freelancers are often lured by the idea of getting a hefty paycheck without working for a bunch of people. But then one day the client emails saying, “Hey, this project is coming to an end (is being cancelled), and we won’t need your services anymore.

Cue: panic attack.

Suddenly you’re scrambling to fill this huge, gaping income void that’s suddenly opened up.

Moral of this mistake: diversify your income streams.

44. You don’t take breaks

All work and no play will make you a burnt-out freelancer.

Take short breaks throughout the year: a weekend here, a day off there, maybe even a half-day off in the middle of the week every couple of weeks.

Both your brain and business will thank you for it.

Marketing

45. You don’t ask for referrals

No one’s a bigger or better advocate of your work than a satisfied client. If you’re not asking them to refer you to more people, you’re losing out on some hot leads.

Imagine receiving an email reading, “Hey, we were looking for a freelancer and you come highly recommended,” as opposed to you sending an introductory email selling your skills and achievements to prospective clients.

46. You don’t ask for testimonials either

Testimonials are the best social currency out there when trying to convince clients you’re the person for the job.

If you’re not getting them from every happy client you have, you’re setting yourself up for needless questions and failure.

But when do you ask a client for a testimonial?

To be honest, there isn’t one perfect, clear cut answer. Go with your gut.

I personally like to ask for a testimonial immediately after a job well done. Clients don’t always come back, and if you don’t ask for one immediately, they’ll forget you and might not be as willing to give you one if you go to them a few months later.

47. You haven’t updated your portfolio since you made it

Nobody will want to work with you if they see your portfolio hasn’t been updated in the past two years.

Take an hour or two every couple of months to update your portfolio. Then, when you’re feeling proud of your work and what you’ve accomplished, send it to a few prospective clients.

48. You treat your portfolio as an afterthought

So many freelancers treat their portfolios as an afterthought. Oh hey, I just did some more work. Let’s put it in my portfolio.

Err … no. That’s not how portfolios work.

Portfolios need to have your best work in them. Not work you’re not embarrassed by, but work you’re damn proud of.

Don’t wait until you’ve done some work before you add it to your portfolio. Instead, find work that will look good on your portfolio. It should be work you want to do more of, work that attracts the kind of clients you want.

When you’ve made a name for yourself and are seen as an expert in your niche, you may not need a portfolio. But until then … well, actually, you need one even then.

49. You don’t think having a blog is important

You’re not doing your freelance business any favors by not having a blog. They are one of the best ways to attract clients.

Use your blog to do client case studies, show how you do your work, the process involved, how you get results, etc. Give prospective clients a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes.

And let’s face it: having a blog is good Google karma too.

50. Your website looks like it’s from 1996

Do you have a website that dates back to 1996? Or that looks like it does? Yeah, you won’t impress clients any time soon.

Getting a spiffy, up-to-date website is extremely easy. You can get one for under $100 for Heaven’s sake! What are you waiting for?

51. You only market when business is slow

If you’re waiting for business to slow down to market your business, you’ll run into problems soon.

Set up a list of 5-10 marketing activities and do any one of them each day. Focus on online marketing if any of the others seem too hard.

  • Write a post for your own blog
  • Email your personal network
  • Update your Facebook page or send out a tweet
  • Hold a giveaway
  • Run a contest
  • Email your old clients
  • Upsell or cross-sell to your current clients
  • Ask for recommendations
  • Email a prospective client
  • Write a guest post

That’s 10 marketing activities for you right there.

Create a pool of marketing activities, then pick one every day and do it. Don’t be afraid to hustle.

52. You don’t know why you’re using social media

I’m going to say something harsh here: If you’re not getting work queries through social media, you’re doing something wrong.

Take the time to build a relationship with your social media followers. Interact with your followers, engage with the ones you follow, answer questions, share relevant content, help out wherever you can.

Do anything to get noticed and be recognized as the person to go to in times of need.

53. You don’t run promotions

Promotions are one of those marketing tactics that help you attract more business and get over slow months.

Smart freelancers anticipate their slow times and plan for them.

Instead of simply accepting the slump you’re going through, do something about it.

Run a time-sensitive promotion, bundle your services, add more value to your current services — anything to make it more attractive to your clients.

The thing about making mistakes

I’d love to tell you how having this list of freelancing mistakes guarantees you will never make them, but you already know I can’t.

What I can tell you is that this list will help you catch your mistakes in time. It will save you from permanently damaging your business and reputation.

Go through it every couple of months. Your chances for success increase every time you fix a mistake you weren’t even aware you were making.

The truth is you can’t run a business without making mistakes. That’s how you learn. That’s also how you succeed.

So don’t be the freelancer who waits for his mistakes to hurt his business. Be the freelancer who finds and fixes them before that happens.

Take action today.

You owe it to yourself and the life your dream of living.

Share your thoughts

What do you think?

Which of these 53 mistakes have you caught yourself making in the past and corrected? What was the impact?

Are there any other mistakes you can add to the list?

Author bio:

Samar Owais is a freelance writer and blogger. She loves writing (kinda goes without saying), road trips, and helping writers succeed in their freelance writing businesses.

How to set a budget for your freelance business

This post was originally published on the Thoughts On Translation blog. It is reposted with permission from the author.

Setting a budget for your freelance business is important, because:

-Many freelancers have no idea how much they need to earn in order to achieve the same level of financial security as someone with a traditional job.
-As a freelancer, you probably need to earn more than you think in order to reach your financial goals.
-You need to know how many billable hours per week you need in order to reach your target income.
-If your rates right now are too low, you need to at least acknowledge that and make a plan to do better in the future (rather than working, working, and working, and then wondering why your bank account empties so fast).

In my online courses, I use a worksheet called “deciding what to charge.” John Milan and I also used this worksheet in our session at the 2018 ATA conference (which got very positive reviews, so hopefully we’ll present it again!). Here, I’ll give you a simplified version of how to do the calculations on that sheet.

Start with: the amount of money you want in your bank account every month, to pay your non-business living expenses such as rent or mortgage, utilities, food, entertainment, and so on. That’s your desired/required net monthly salary.

Next: to that, add every expense that you incur for your business. If the expense is not paid monthly (i.e. professional association dues), divide it into a monthly amount and enter that. Your expenses may include some or all of the following, plus anything else that you pay that is not listed here:

-Taxes: (20-50%, depending on your tax bracket and your country)
-Retirement account contribution
-Paid vacation/sick time allocation (money that you put into a business savings account so that you can pay yourself when you take time off)
-Professional association dues
-Professional development (conferences, webinars, classes, individual coaching, etc.)
-Subscription-based web services (cloud backups, PDF conversion service, LinkedIn Premium, etc.)
-Office rent
-Computer hardware and software (new purchases and/or upgrades)
-Work-related child care (if applicable; and don’t forget in that in the US, you may be able to deduct summer day camp for kids under 13)
-Work-related travel
-Communications (internet, cell phone, Skype minutes, etc.)

Add it all up, and that’s your required or desired monthly gross income. Warning: as discussed above, this will be a big number. Perhaps bigger than you want to admit; but the first step is to get a grand total. If you’re feeling energetic, do this for three income levels: the minimum you can live off, the amount that gives you the similar level of financial security to someone with a traditional job, and something in between.

Next (not done yet!), multiply that number/those numbers by 12, to get your required or desired yearly gross income. Write that down.

Now we’ll convert that to your required hourly rate.

Take 52 weeks, and subtract the number of weeks you think you will not work (vacation, sick time, time off to take care of family members, etc). Divide your yearly gross income as calculated above, by your number of working weeks. That gives you your required income per week. For example if your required/desired gross income is $90,000 and you’re going to work 48 weeks per year, your required income per week is $1,875 per week.

Next, determine how many hours per week you realistically think you can/want to bill. Non-billable time is a big variable. For beginners, non-billable time often involves time that you would like to be working, but you don’t have paying work. For experienced translators, it’s more likely to involve non-billable but necessary tasks such as accounting, marketing, professional development, research, client communications, etc. As a side note, when other freelancers ask me, “How do you find the time to work on marketing or other non-translation tasks?” my answer is “By not having to bill 40 hours a week.”

I’d advise doing this calculation for perhaps 25, 30, and 35 billable hours per week: take your required weekly income (your equivalent of the $1,875 listed above), and divide that by your number of billable hours, to determine your required hourly rate. For example at 25 billable hours per week, our $90,000 translator would need to earn $75 per billable hour to generate $1,875 in a week.

The fun continues because most translators aren’t paid by the hour. If you are, great: you’re done, other than asking whether your existing clients will pay your required hourly rate. If you get paid by the word or the project, then you need to further calculate how fast (or slowly) you translate. For example to generate $75 an hour, you could translate 500 words at 15 cents, or 250 words at 30 cents, or 800 words at 9.3 cents (these are not recommended rates or translation speeds, just examples). Translation speed is a huge factor in your income, and one that a lot of translators overlook: if you are someone who translates 250 words an hour, you need to charge a lot more than someone who translates 600 words an hour.

At the end of all this, you should at least have a better sense of whether the numbers for your freelance business add up the way you want them to; and if you’re not making enough money, why you’re not.

  • Perhaps you have tons of work, but it’s pervasively low-paying.
  • Perhaps your rates are fine, but you need more work.
  • Perhaps you translate very slowly.
  • Either way, these calculations should help you base your pricing decisions on objective data, rather than on fear and vague speculation about “what the market will bear.”

In closing, a huge thank you to Jonathan Hine, who presented the pricing presentation at the ATA conference for many years before passing the baton to me and John, and whose booklet “I Am Worth It!” goes into greater depth on the calculation methods I’ve mentioned here!

Image source: Pixabay